November 28, 2010


It's somewhat fitting that the World Tour Final championship has the initials it does -- so often in recent years the one to hoist the year-end tournament trophy over his head may not have been the one who's had the most successful year in the pros. That may be true this year as well, but that doesn't make Roger Federer's three set victory over long-time rival Rafael Nadal any less meaningful.

It had been an up-and-down year for the former world #1 and four-time winner of the Barclays event. Though he began by winning the Australian Open in fairly routine fashion, he had some interesting results after that. He lost early in Indian Wells to Marcos Baghdatis and then again in Miami to rising star Tomas Berdych. His twenty-three straight Major semi streak came to a crashing halt at the French Open and he failed to defend his Wimbledon crown with another quarterfinal loss. And, of course, a classic match against Novak Djokovic in New York kept him out of the U.S. Open finals -- making this his least successful Grand Slam year since 2003.

So that's the down part.

Since New York, however, it's been a straight line up -- Roger made the finals in Shanghai and then won titles in Stockholm and Basel. A semifinal run at the Paris Masters brought him to 16-2 during his fall season, not bad for a man who had been only 44-11 for the first nine months of the year. He came to London with a satchel full of momentum that it didn't seem anyone could stop.

Rightly so, it ended up being Rafael Nadal who would try to stop him. Nadal's year has been almost a mirror image of Fed's, beginning with a retirement in the Melbourne quarters and a drop out of the top three, but followed by a perfect clay court season, successful reclamation of titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and a miraculous run to the trophy in New York. Seven titles, three Slams, and only one finish earlier than a quarterfinal helped him lock in the year-end #1 for the second time in his career. After surviving a tough match on Saturday, Nadal had more than earned the right to play in his first ever World Tour Final.

Now when you look at the head-to-head record for these two men, you might think Nadal had the advantage. He had, after all, won fourteen of the pair's twenty-one meetings. He'd won six of their last seven matches, all in the last three years, and even held a respectable three-all score on hardcourts. Still I, and many of the commentators during today's final, gave Roger the edge.

He needed it more.

Nearing thirty years of age, and coming off such a roller coaster of a year, ending 2010 with a win in London would do loads for his confidence, loads for the future of his career. And from the start of the match, Federer played like he knew just what was on the line. He opened the match by holding at love, won every one of his first serve points in the first set, and converted a break point at 4-3 for the chance to serve out the opener. Nadal got and held on to the early lead in the second, but as true champions must, Roger raised his level of play in the decider, allowing only five points on his serve and breaking Rafa twice to seal up the win in short order.

Federer may not have put together the best year on Tour, but the way he's played in the past weeks proves that, not only does he deserve this title, but that he doesn't plan on going anywhere in the New Year. And if you're a little upset about the outcome of today's match -- as I, admittedly, am a bit -- both men's play shows something else.

We're sure to see a lot more of their always-inspiring battles in the year(s) to come.

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